One of the draws to visiting Massachusetts for us was seeing one of my long-time friends Bre, with whom I used to work for many years at GU Energy. We have stayed in touch over the years and I was excited to reconnect. However, with Covid having gripped us, we had to change our plans and find other ways to spend our time. We wanted to socially isolate as much as possible until I tested negative, so going to a more populous area such as Boston was out of the question. Instead, we laid low during the Memorial Day weekend and did a variety of more relaxed activities during the subsequent week.
We had a fairly brief travel day, but as we neared our destination we ended up on a road with a “Road work ahead” sign. This was the only road through to our destination that we could find. We didn’t see any construction workers though, so we continued down what was essentially a repaving project in mid-swing. Pretty quickly we saw a construction crew and police standing around, but were offered no guidance until we stopped next to a dump truck driver whose response was “Yeah, you’re good.”
As we cautiously continued, manholes and other obstacles were raised above the surface all over the road. So we ended up playing manhole slalom with our travel trailer while competing with oncoming traffic. We’d seen similar construction zones in places like Belize, but didn’t expect such a chaotic situation in Massachusetts. 😂 Thankfully, we made it through the construction zone unscathed and it all worked out.
In central Massachusetts, we stayed at the Northampton/Springfield KOA, which is actually located in Westhampton. This KOA is one of the larger ones we have booked during our journeys. We were way in the back, and this turned out to be great for us. It was less crowded and thus quieter, had a decent amount of sun, but we also had afternoon shade. Our site was grass and slightly sloped, so for more level sites on rock I recommend those at the front of the KOA grounds. However, the frontmost sites are closer together and see a lot more traffic since they are also near the office and general store, pool, play equipment, and mini golf.
This KOA offers firetruck rides for kids, which we saw on several occasions doing laps around the park. In fact, they provided a whole itinerary of activities happening over the Memorial Day weekend. There are facilities with laundry, bathrooms and game rooms both in the front and back of the park, and another bathroom in the center of the park. Unfortunately, the laundry facilities near us were really grimy, with dead bugs all over the floor, and the arcade next door was locked. But, we took a peek at the front laundry facilities and they were much cleaner by comparison and the game room was open.
Two issues we experienced were extremely low water flow and frequent power outages. Since we usually fill our freshwater tank, water flow isn’t a huge issue for us. However, we kept having power brownouts, as did our neighbor, so I don’t think they are set up to handle the number of people staying there, even though it wasn’t even completely full. There are a number of full-time residents in the middle of the park and trailers that remain there permanently as vacation getaways. I’m not sure if that affects the power issues, or if they just need to redo their entire power grid. Finally, the KOA general store was pretty barren, so the Outlook Farm Barn and Eatery just a few minutes down the road is a great option for prepared food and groceries.
We wanted to see downtown Northampton, but still keep our distance so we didn’t get anyone sick. The weather was really nice, so we parked on the edge of town and went for a stroll.
The first place we encountered was Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college. As we continued toward the town center, we enjoyed the vivid art on the streets, sidewalks and walls and saw a pedestrian bridge overhead. That bridge is part of the Northampton Greenway, one portion of over 52 miles of bike/walk paths branching out in several directions from downtown. We continued along that path and then circled back, enjoying some older buildings, including the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church.
Eventually, we decided to stop at Jake’s Restaurant, since they had a decent menu and outside seating. I had their Eggs in Purgatory bowl and Matt had the house burger. My lunch was especially good and quite filling, so I saved half for breakfast the next day. 😋 I was really warm at this point in the day, and this being our first real outing since being sick, we didn’t want to push our luck, so we headed back. All in all, we thought Northampton was a cute little downtown. Had we been feeling better and not concerned about being contagious, we would have definitely spent more time down here enjoying the restaurants and the bike path.
As we slowly started getting out more, I was itching to get on a trail to see how my lungs could handle a little bit of elevation. Nearby was a place called Mineral Hills Conservation Area, which has trails and views of an abandoned rock quarry. I figured it would be a great place to enjoy some nice views. Starting out, it was incredibly buggy, so bug spray is recommended. We didn’t catch any views on the main part of the hike, but did get a decent little workout.
On our way back, the quarry is right next to the trailhead, so if you want to skip the hike and just see the quarry, you can easily do just that. We saw from atop the cliffs that there was quite the ecosystem down below: a pond filled with fish, frogs, turtles, and among the dry parts of the quarry there were plenty of birds and blooms visible. As such, we went into the quarry.
Not only did we see all of these things, I surprised a large snake, and the frogs gave us quite the little concert. I have never heard bull frogs with such deep calls before! Check out this video and turn up the sound to listen. At 13 seconds and 34 seconds you can hear the low, guttural calls from what I suspect was a really large bull frog. 😯🐸 This was a really cool experience, and as far as enjoying wildlife, it was one of my favorites on this trip thus far. 👍👍
Before we left the area, we went on one more walk through Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. This place gets plenty of use, having facilities for to play soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball, swimming, bocce ball and more. We stuck to the trails along the Broad Brook and Nashawannuck Pond, and I finally got to see one of my favorite flowers in bloom: the Pink Lady’s Slipper. This wild orchid is native to the northeast and reminds me of the Showy Lady’s Slipper, which is the state flower of Minnesota, where I grew up. 😍
Just 30 minutes south of us is the city of Springfield. It also happens to be the home town of famed children’s author Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel). The weather was going to be a hot, so we thought it would be a good idea to go check out the Dr. Seuss museum and beat the heat. While looking for things to do in Springfield, I happened upon this blog post. It was hilarious that the 15th idea on the list was to not go to Springfield at all, but go to Boston instead. 😂 Talk about terrible advertising for a city! LOL
We discovered that Springfield has five museums together in one area, so you can buy a ticket to see them all and they provide a map of each location and type of museum. The options include museums of science, art, fine arts, Springfield history, and Dr. Seuss. You have to select a time slot to go into the Dr. Seuss museum due to its popularity, so we chose to start at the science museum since it was right next door.
We walked through sections displaying both a variety of mammals and dinosaurs as well as a synopsis of earth’s geologic and natural history broken down into time periods. Upstairs we saw an exhibit of African artifacts and cultural history, showing how many of us originated from this area when the continents had not yet separated into their existing locations. I never realized just how massive the continent of Africa is until that moment! 😯 Finally, we wandered the Earth Hall, which displays different meteorite remnants, rocks, gems and minerals from all over the world. The variety of materials found on this earth are awe-inspiring.
Next we headed over to the Dr. Seuss museum. You walk through different rooms dedicated to different subjects, such as his early and late childhood, his years as an acclaimed author, and the period after he retired from writing. The basement and first floors of this museum are mostly geared toward kids, including many interactive sections, but the second story shares artifacts, his drawings, and correspondence with loved ones that provide more insight into the man behind the popular children’s books.
Outside you can wander through the small Dr. Seuss memorial sculpture garden, all figures designed and created by Dr. Seuss’s step-daughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates.
It was getting late, so we only had time to visit one more museum. Across the way we took a brief tour of the fine arts hall, which included paintings, furniture and sculptures from periods including some 15th century Medieval period and 16th century Renaissance art, 17th to 19th century European art, and Modern or Contemporary art on the bottom floor.
Afterward, we walked around downtown in search of an open coffee shop, and discovered La Fiorentina Pastry Shop. They have a small grocery of Italian goods, cafe, bakery and gelateria, with some gorgeous cakes and other delectable pastries on display. Matt got an affogato and I chose a small cup of strawberry gelato, which we enjoyed as we walked toward the truck. I wish we had more time to visit the city’s Forest Park, but it was getting late, we were tired and needed to head back to prepare dinner. If you like visiting museums and/or are a fan of Dr. Seuss, this is a great place to enjoy both.
Though we would have loved to explore this area more and see friends during our stay, we were still in recovery mode after being sick, trying to distance ourselves from others and regain our energy. What I loved about the area was how relaxed it was. We didn’t feel rushed or stressed and really enjoyed the pace of life here, the scenery, and the lovely late spring weather. Come see for yourself if you are traveling through New England. We head to New Hampshire next for another week-long stay.